The columnist of Daily Sabah Newspaper, Merve Sebnem questions Turkey ambious to enter SCO.
Turkey-EU relations, which started when Turkey first applied for associate membership in the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1959 and signed the Ankara Agreement in 1963, is going through a fragile period. The relations between Turkey and the EEC were frozen following the military coup in 1980, and they were fully restored after the elections in 1983. It’s ironic that the relations are on the edge of another freeze today but this one came after the failed coup attempt this summer. It was the last straw for Turkey that its Western allies waited for days to visit Turkey in order to show their solidarity, as if they were disappointed the coup attempt failed. Instead of standing side by side, the EU, which has already opened its gates to terrorists to escape from Turkey for years, started to worry about the coup plotters’ comfort. And finally, the European lawmakers voted on Thursday for a halt to talks on Turkey joining the EU, citing their concerns over alleged violation of the rule of law and human rights by the Turkish government since July 15. Although the vote is not binding for the EU countries, such a move is not tolerable for Turkey.
TURKEY SUBMITTED ITS APPLICATION FOR FULL EU MEMBERSHIP
Turkey submitted its application for full EU membership in 1987. The Customs Union between the two took effect in 1996. In 1999, Turkey got the status of candidate country for EU membership while the accession talks started in 2005. Turkey has already been disturbed with the slow pace of the progress that took years but took no steps forward, and the Turkish people are no longer excited about EU membership. Due to the new growing tension between Turkey and the EU over the last three years, and especially after the unfair reactions from the EU against the July 15 coup attempt, people are now angry with their Western allies. When you ask the Turks on the streets what they think about being a member of the EU, many say today that the EU is already on the verge of collapse so why should Turkey join. It is obvious that the emotional ties between Turkey and the EU have already severed and what is left is just economic concerns. Turkey has a growing economy and it has good trade relations with the EU. Turkey’s top export partners are Germany, the U.K., Iraq, the U.S. and France, three of which are European countries. Annual Turkey-EU trade is around 140 billion euros. However, Turkey and the EU currently trade under the Customs Union, which only covers industrial goods and is now over 20 years old, which means it is really out of date. Enhancing trade opportunities with EU countries would be beneficial for Turkey, and it would also be an advantage for the bloc as well since Turkey is a big market. Also Turkey is a county across which key pipelines deliver large supplies of oil and gas from Asia to Europe. Having good relations with Turkey is vital for the EU as it is dependent on Russia for energy and that dependency, of course, offers Turkey an alternative energy route.
ERDOGAN TALKS ABOUT JOINING THE SCO
However, the EU’s detaching ties with Turkey is pushing Ankara to new trade opportunities and economical partnerships. That’s why, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s talks about joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is not just an idle bluff as a reaction to Turkey’s frustrations with the EU. Formed in 1996, the SCO consists of Russia and China, as well as the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, three of which speak some form of Turkic language. Since the economic potential in Asia is remarkable, Western countries led by the U.S. see the Asia Pacific, and especially China, as a growing threat. So why wouldn’t Turkey turn this potential into an opportunity after the country is repeatedly being alienated by its Western allies?
Turkey can be a partner in the SCO and continue its trade with the EU at the same time; there is theoretically no problem with that. However, Turkey is also a NATO member. Can it be in NATO and in the SCO at the same time, too? That might be a problem. The arms industry of the U.S., the U.K. and France sell Turkey weaponry including sophisticated systems integrated with NATO defense systems. Turkey’s membership is crucial to NATO, as it has a vital role in confronting threats from the east and the south, pressuring Russia and protecting Europe, despite the fact that NATO members repeatedly fail to help Turkey when its security is at stake, even though they have a commitment to defend one another against threats under the Article 5 of the treaty, which covers collective defense. Being abandoned by its NATO partners again and again, Turkey now knows that it needs to protect itself. In order to become self-sufficient with regards to security, Turkey now asks for technology transfer when it buys high-tech weaponry systems. Since its Western allies closed their doors to Turkey’s demands, Turkey sat on the table with Chinese state-owned CPMIEC to buy a Chinese missile system in 2013, a move, which made NATO very disturbed. The Chinese system was not found suitable to Turkey’s demands, however Ankara is undeterred to start and finish its $3.4 billion program to construct the first long-range air and anti-missile defense system. That’s why; Ankara is lately in talks with Moscow on the purchase of S-400 air defense systems of Russia. NATO’s official objection to talks with China was that there would be an integration problem with the Chinese missile system and NATO infrastructure. If Ankara and Moscow reaches an agreement over S-400 missile systems, NATO will surely come with the same argument. So we can be assured that the very complicated relations will become more complicated.
So, trade cooperation is not just about trade and economy; the current world order makes you think and talk about security partnerships at the same time. Turkey’s possible membership to the SCO will definitely change the game, but who can really blame Turkey for that? After being left alone by its Western allies against all the security threats from Syria, Iraq and Russia in the last five years, or during the Gülenist coup attempt this summer and terror attacks of the outlawed PKK and Daesh, Turkey is right to seek new allies that will be true friends.